3 Words that Should Come to Mind When You Hear “Millennial”

When asked to speak on the topic of Millennials, I warm up the audience with a simple question:
“I say Millennial, you say-?”

Then, I count the seconds until I hear the following three words:
1) “Lazy!”
2) “Entitled!”
3) “Narcissist!”

On average, American audiences take around four seconds to shout all three. After a global speaking circuit, I wasn’t surprised that the pleasant, agreeable Swedes took the longest, at ten seconds.

Indeed, the “lazy, entitled narcissist” moniker has become so widespread, it’s virtually my generation’s slogan. Google can affirm this, as Autocomplete suggests that everyone’s seeking affirmation that we’re indeed truly awful, and curiously, “killing napkins.”

Millennials are

After years of studying the Millennials like a Gen Y Jane Goodall, I’ve reached a different conclusion (though we probably are killing napkins). I challenge my audiences, and would like to challenge you, to see Millennials in a different light. After hundreds of interviews of both Millennials and their top leaders, I’ve surmised that three factors objectively define us and position us to change the world:

1) The Recession. Throughout most of human history, people grew up affected by and focused on their local community’s problems. From the 1850s through late 20th century, governments worked to expand the average citizen’s awareness of the entire country’s problems, creating the Age of Nationalism. More recently, the global recession exposed Millennials, then in high school, to the entire world’s problems. Exposure to a staggering amount of global issues at such a young age molded the world’s first mass army of globally-minded problem solvers.

2) The Internet. As the first generation to grow up with the Internet and faced with rising education standards, Millennials learned to become the fastest-learning generation of all time. I once heard a sociologist at a dinner party say that Millennials process 100x more data per day than their great-grandparents did; I don’t doubt it. The world’s leading recruiters of top Millennial talent realize this. Bain, Deloitte, Epic, and Microsoft all use arduous, open-book testing in their recruitment and training processes, testing Millennials on their most underrated quality: how fast we learn.

3) Our Education. Millennials are the most educated generation of all time, with around a 40-50 percent college graduation rate in most developed countries. On average, we hold twice as many degrees as the equally-numbered Baby Boomers.

These globally-minded problem-solving Millennials sound great, but of course, there are exceptions. Every generation has a smattering of whiny, self-absorbed sociopaths causing the rest of us to roll our eyes and sigh (Logan Paul comes to mind). But on the whole, I do think that Millennials are positioned to create unprecedented positive change in our society, and are vastly underrated.

Furthermore, I find that what separates leaders who attract top-talent Millennials from those who hire and fire weak talent every 9 months is, first and foremost, attitude. Those who see Millennials as high potential attract and unlock that potential, while those who hold onto negative biases attract low caliber talent. This discovery has led me to coin my own humble law of human nature:

Law of Millennials

Is it really that revelatory to think that young people are attracted to leaders who see our potential rather than our faults?

As a leader, I challenge you, then, to think of my generation as the following:
1) Highly-educated
2) Fast-learning
3) Problem-solvers

Granted, it’s not three words, and it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like “lazy, entitled narcissist,” but it puts a more positive, and I think fair, spin on a generation waiting for leaders like you to unlock our potential.